yoshimi battles the pink robots

This song has always made me think of my mom and her cancer treatments. I imagined her as Yoshimi, and the robots as the cancer, the vitamins as the chemo and radiation.

My cover of Yoshimi by The Flaming Lips (on ukulele):

holding it in my hand

I finished the cancer comic book. With the help of a really lovely woman named Kate Barber and the Publication Studio at the Williams College Museum of Art, it is printed and bound and is a real live book I can hold in my hands.

adventures of a left breast

I want to cry. The intense joy of seeing the physical result of seven years of work plus the deep sadness of my mom not being here, not seeing this, and the sadness of everything we’ve gone through… seeing it and holding it I want to cry.

Reading the first part of this book, my mom’s part, is the only thing that makes me feel close to her right now. When other people tell me they dream about her or feel her presence I get mad, because I don’t feel it. It’s too much for me to feel it, or she just isn’t here, and I’m so mad, because she’s not here and she’ll never be here again.

But she’s in this book. At least, a part of her is. 2007 Viola is here, and I remember all these scenes. Reading her story in her own voice with her drawings and collages and handwriting is comforting and devastating at the same time.

We made this together. And I finally finished it.

Now that it’s a real live book, organized and formatted, I’m going to send copies out to publishers and hope it gets made into a book you can actually buy in stores, at comics festivals, and on the internet. I’ll let you know when that happens. (Incidentally, if you are a comics publisher reading this, feel free to contact me.)

november 11

The first time I drank Boddingtons was on a freezing February night in Syracuse in 2007. I had taken a Chinatown bus from New York that that arrived in a dark parking lot where Lee was waiting for me. We went to a crowded pub for dinner and he ordered two beers. “This will change you life,” he said.

My mom had very recently been diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time and Lee was the only person I wanted to talk to about it. I ignored all the calls coming to my cell phone that weekend– friends wanting to see if I was okay, because they’d heard from someone else about my mom. Lee and I walked around campus throwing snowballs at each other. We watched a soccer game on TV– the only soccer game I’ve ever actually watched. Argentina was playing. Lee made crepes for breakfast.

My bus back to New York left at 2am on Sunday from the same dark parking lot.


March 10th, April 18th, September 6th and November 11th.

Those are the birth and death dates of two people I have lost. I always know when those days are coming, always feel it about a week away and it hangs on for a few days after. I want to do something momentous on those days and I also want to crawl into a cave of blankets and hide. Nothing I do is ever satisfying or important enough, and I never feel better.

Tonight I’m going to drink Lee’s favorite beer and try to just feel the shitty feelings and remember as many memories as possible. It’s never going to be fair or okay.

5 years

I just read this post by Maura Foley on The Hairpin while waiting for water to boil for my coffee.

She writes about struggling to get to that 5 year mark– the famous one in Cancer World, the one that if reached means the cancer is way less likely to come back. My mom was so close too. At about four and a half years, just about 3 months after her annual mammogram that declared her cancer free, it came back.

I hope this girl’s dad makes it, and I hope he gets to live a lot longer. I lived with that worry about the cancer coming back for so long, telling myself that my mom was okay, that she was “better.” But as Maura writes, there is no “cure,” only windows. Somehow my body knew that Mama wasn’t “all better,” and my mind fought with this instinct for four years. And then it came back, or was never really gone. And then she got a year longer than any doctor thought she would. And then she started dying. And then she died. Now I live with a different feeling in the back of my mind all the time: a huge hole, a constant reminder, Mama is not here.

The water’s ready, I’ve steeped the coffee in the french press. Now I’m going to sit on my little porch and draw some flowers.


mama and me in our hats in Chicago March 2012Morning Coffee 3 “Morning Coffee” comic from 2011

I’m twenty-seven years old and my mom is dead.

How strange that is to say and even to think. If I live to be at least 60 (and universe-willing it will be longer than that), then she will have been dead for most of my life. How does one understand something like this? The biggest person in my life is gone, and the whole world is different.

She’d been dying for a while, and I knew it was coming. By the end she seemed so far away that I didn’t think it’d be much different when she actually passed. But it’s like there’s a line that’s been crossed, between my life with Mama and now life without.

I’m trying to write this post as a way to organize my thoughts and feelings and be open about them so they don’t get bottled up or pressed down, which is easy for me to do. Like I’ve said before, I’m trying to keep my heart open. But honestly I don’t know what to say.

She was my mom. My biggest champion, supporter, understanding friend, the one who loved me the most no matter how big of a buttface I was being. She made everything fun. She made me, I came out of her. She was my mom. What else can I say?

This hole is really big, and no one else will ever fill it, but maybe it can be hole like this one. Maybe it will allow me to see things I couldn’t without it.

I’m sure I will write more about this. And I’ve been sketching comics throughout the last few months of her cancer, and as I make final versions I might post them here. But for today this is all I’ve got.

being here

This morning, as I rode my bike in this beautiful day (however climate-change frightening it may be), I realized that I am really, truly Here.

“Here” means a lot of things to me. I’ve been holding onto a lot of secrets for a long time. Recently, I’ve explored letting those secrets go, speaking them out loud, showing all of myself to the people around me. I’ve always been scared to do that because I thought people (besides my family) wouldn’t like me if they saw all that. As much as I didn’t want to admit to myself that was the reason (who me? I don’t care what people think!), it really was, or at least partly. I felt I had to be alone in certain ways to maintain my identity and my true self. As I have let some things open up in the past ten days, which was very scary at first, I’ve begun to feel a lightness.

So, I am Here, in my self. I’m also Here, in my experience. The experience of my mom’s cancer, of what my life means with that in it. I rode bikes with my parents today, and felt so grateful to be with them, to be a part of this. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Riding my bike today with that knowledge, I smiled at the world.

My sister sent me this article about film projectionists. In it is discussed the idea of nostalgia. I already feel this nostalgic pull as I think of how little time I have left with these old projectors and real live film. With this magical, mystical job, which will soon be changing to digital projection. It’s become part of my identity, and I cherish that. But I know I have to move with the transition, and not hold too tightly to this thing which is a realization of a childhood dream for me. I am Here, at the end of an era for film, and the beginning of a new technology.

Today was a good day, one in which all of this is clear to me. Some days are a lot harder. I’m doing my best and I’m going to feel it all one day at a time.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign language. The point is to love everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way some distant day into the answers.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke, poet (1875-1926)